John Fritz was born in September of 1966. He was raised on a family dairy farm in southwest Wisconsin. He is the oldest of five children. He was lucky enough to have parents who made him learn the value of hard work early on. “We were a farm family, and I was the oldest son. I was expected to help with the chores and work outside with my dad.” He was born legally blind but had some sight. This diminished to light perception by the age of three. He believed at an early age that sight was not a requirement to be successful.
The National Federation of the Blind doesn't prescribe what a blind person should do or even what he or she can do. It merely invites every blind person to dream and work to achieve those dreams.
John attended the Wisconsin School for the Blind from kindergarten through the seventh grade, primarily because the public school didn't believe a blind child could be served in his hometown. In seventh grade he was able to persuade the school counselor to allow him to transfer back to his local public school. He remembers this being a very difficult adjustment. Having lived at the school for the blind for seven years and being away from his siblings, he found it hard to return and take his place again. Everyone had to get to know each other again. “I realized how much I was missing out on at home,” he said.
John graduated from Fennimore High School with honors in 1985. Before and after school he was responsible for milking cows and helping with general farm work during high school. He earned his letter in wrestling and played trumpet in pep band, marching band, and concert band. His most significant accomplishments came in Future Farmers of America (FFA). He was involved in an extemporaneous-speaking competition, the Creed Speaking Contest; dairy judging; and parliamentary procedure. He placed fourth in the nation in computers in agriculture and achieved the American Farmer Degree. He also served as president of his FFA chapter for two years.
John attended the University of Wisconsin-Platteville, where he graduated with honors in 1989 with a major in animal science, emphasizing dairy management, nutrition, and reproduction. He also earned a minor in computer science. While in college he participated in the academic decathlon in agriculture and in seven academic clubs and organizations.
In these years John got his first dose of the low expectations many professionals have for blind students. When he told his Department for Vocational Rehabilitation (DVR) counselor that he wanted to be a veterinarian, his counselor informed him that, if he pursued that career, DVR wouldn't fund him. The counselor announced that a blind person wouldn't be able to be a veterinarian. So John told the DVR counselor to leave. That day he learned quickly that, if he wanted to pursue his goals, he needed to find a way to pay for college himself. He found part-time jobs, work-study assignments, and scholarships to pay his way.
“The most significant event of my life occurred the summer of my sophomore year at a national convention when I won a National Federation of the Blind scholarship in Phoenix, Arizona,” John said. This was his first exposure to the NFB. He was relieved to find peers doing similar things and blind people with the same philosophy. He realized during that convention that he had finally found the biggest and most reliable source of information any blind college student could ever have—other blind people. While attending college, he continued to work on the farm on weekends. College provided him the opportunity to advocate for himself and become a self-sufficient person.
John started working on the family dairy farm right after graduating from college. By this time he had decided that the dairy farm was the immediate need, and veterinary school would have to wait. He was responsible for the day-to-day operations and management of the farm, where he milked sixty-five registered Brown Swiss cows. In 1991 he started working part-time for a local computer store as a computer technician. His main responsibility was repairing computers. The next year he became store manager, where his responsibilities included the day-to-day operation of the store, sales, and service. He left the farm and moved to town. He continued at this job for six years. In 1995 he married Heather Ross. They met during the 1992 NFB convention in Charlotte and started dating after running into each other again during the Dallas convention in 1993. In 1997 he accepted a job with the Louisiana Center for the Blind as the computer instructor. He describes it as a very rewarding experience because it provided the opportunity for him to fully absorb and live the philosophy of the National Federation of the Blind each day. While in Louisiana, John and Heather Fritz started their family. Lindsey was born in 1998, Christina was born in 1999, Mark was sponsored from Korea in 2001, and Andrew was born in 2002.
In 2003 John made the difficult decision to leave his job and friends at the center and return home to Wisconsin with Heather's parents, who had just retired to Wisconsin from California, to begin his own vending business with the Business Enterprise program. This is what he continues to do today. In 2005 the Fritzes adopted their daughter Katie from China at the age of six. In 2006 John and Heather built their dream home for their growing family on fifteen acres in Kendall, Wisconsin. He also built a warehouse for his business, J&H Vending, Inc.
John says that he was honored to be elected president of the NFB of Wisconsin in 2006. He has enjoyed working with the affiliate, divisions, and the blind of Wisconsin. In 2008 he was elected to the National Federation of the Blind board of directors. He remains very busy with the state affiliate, along with being a member of Lions Club, the local Ham Radio Club, and various other clubs and organizations. He also likes to do woodworking, grilling, fishing, and hunting large game with his kids.
As busy as he is, and as many activities as he pursues, nothing is more important to John than spending time watching his children grow—all seven of them! Child number six, a four-year-old boy from India they named Jacob, was adopted in May of 2009. The Fritz family has also been joined by a seventeen-year-old daughter named Anna, who was originally adopted from China by another family when she was nine years old, but became part of the Fritz clan in the summer of 2009.
Reflecting on his life and work, John says, “The National Federation of the Blind doesn't prescribe what a blind person should do or even what he or she can do. It merely invites every blind person to dream and work to achieve those dreams. Its members blaze trails for one another and cheer each other along the way.”